Jessica is pediatric feeding therapist who works with in the public schools in New Jersey with preschoolers with special needs, many of whom have feeding challenges. We crossed paths with her a few years ago when we introduced her and her adorable students to the Dr. Yum Preschool Food Adventure. Read about Jessica’s  experience below, in this post originally published on her blog, “Learning with Littles.”

My love for feeding therapy has taken on a whole new world these days. Working in a preschool with student’s who have varying diagnoses, one thing was pretty consistent, “picky eating”. Many of my students tended to prefer foods that were not very nutritious. Your typical “kid friendly” foods of chips, anything chocolate and chicken nuggets. When I asked their parents what a goal would be for their child’s feeding progress, eating a fruit or vegetable was high on the priority list.

I was desperate to find a way to introduce my students to healthy snack options. Snack options that were easy to do in a school snack setting, easy enough for parents to re-create at home and most importantly fun. Last year, I was lucky enough to be the first Special Ed Preschool class to pilot Dr. Yum’s Preschool Food Adventure Curriculum.  It has been an amazing experience for myself, the staff I work with and our students. When your students request, “more” of their Kale Smoothie, that is something to be celebrated!

The asking for seconds doesn’t happen overnight though! Giving my students exposure to the recipe ingredients for a few weeks prior to creating a recipe has been the secret weapon to success. Participating in art, literacy, science and music activities allowed my students to interact with and learn about the foods without feeling the pressure to eat them. When it came time to making the recipe our students were more willing to participate in the preparation of the recipe and more willing try the new foods.

In comes gardening. Schools all over the country have started creating gardens in their school yards as a way teach students hands on lessons, teach the value of sustainability and to open up the conversation of living healthier life styles. For me, having a school garden was another way to provide my students exposure to healthy foods.

My class was preparing to make a recipe using strawberries at the end of the month. I had a student who spent several occasions out in the garden. His first time he went out with his OT to pick strawberries off the plants. He was excited to share yet wouldn’t taste them himself. The next time, he went out and picked some more. When he brought them in we cut them up and “painted” with them. I observed him bring one to his tongue to taste it. His family knew we were working on strawberries and decided to go strawberry picking as a family. At the end of the month we created a strawberry salsa. I again observed him tasting the strawberry over and over and taking very small bites. To me this was awesome progress! But the real success was when I received a note from his mom reporting that he had requested strawberries as a snack at home and ate them! Awesome news.

Early on I was questioned as to how gardening relates to my profession. I started questioning myself, and then that happened.

Exposure is so powerful, the proof is in the plant.

Jessica Fioretti, MA CCC/SLP is a Speech Language Pathologist for the Jackson Township school district.   She has been working in her field for 17 years and for the past 9 years, has been working primarily with special education preschoolers.  She has also now taken on the role of her elementary school’s Garden Coordinator.  She loves that all of the students have the opportunity to see where food comes from and that they have an outdoor learning space.

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